10 Tips to Reduce iPhone & iPad Personal Hotspot Data Usage

Mar 28, 2012 - 16 Comments

Personal Hotspot

Personal Hotspot is one of the best features of an iPhone and iPad, allowing you to share the devices 3G or 4G LTE internet connection with up to five other connected devices through wi-fi, be them Macs, iPads, iPods, or PC’s. Personal Hotspot may be a mobile users and telecommuters dream, but tethering an internet connection can also eat through the expensive hotspot data plans extremely fast. Avoid overage charges and reduce overall data consumption when tethering with these helpful tips:

1) Monitor Data Usage on iPhone or iPad

The first thing you’ll want to do is keep an eye on how much data you’re using. The easiest way to do this is directly on the iOS device that is sharing it’s internet connection through Personal Hotspot:

  • Open Settings and tap on “General”, then tap on “Usage”
  • Scroll down and tap on “Cellular Usage” and look for “Cellular Network Data” sent and received, keep a note of this, or better yet, tap on “Reset Statistics” at the start of a new tethering session so you can monitor data use per hotspot session

You can also check data usage through AT&T and Verizon, though they don’t seem to update as often so they might not be the most reliable method to watch data.

2) Monitor Data & Network Usage on a Mac

Use a free desktop based bandwidth monitor like SurplusMeter, it sits in your Mac menu bar and keeps an eye on data use for you. Use this in combination with watching data usage directly on the iOS device for best results, as there may be some discrepancies and it’s always better to err on the side of caution with Personal Hotspot to avoid an overage fee.

3) Quit or Disable Desktop Apps with Push Notifications

OS X Mail checks for emails constantly in the background, quit it when the app isn’t in use. Mac OS X Menubar apps like Gmail Notifier and Facebook Notifier ping their servers constantly to look for updates. Quit these apps while using the iOS Hotspot. If it’s getting updates and it’s not 100% necessary for the work at hand, quit the app or at least disable or delay the updating to consume less data.

4) Turn Off iCloud and Dropbox Syncing

Temporarily disable cloud syncing apps like Dropbox and iCloud, or else they will continue syncing changes to their respective servers, slowly whittling away your allocated cellular data plan. You can pause syncing from Dropbox by pulling down the Dropbox menu and selection the “Pause Syncing” option, and to turn off iCloud syncing features:

  • Open System Preferences and click on iCloud
  • Uncheck all boxes next to all iCloud choices

Just remember to restore these options once you’re back on a normal wifi network.

5) Disable Mac OS X Software Update Automatic Downloads

Keeping software up to date is a great general maintenance tip, but disable it when you’re not on a network with plenty of bandwidth:

  • Open System Preferences and click on “Software Update”
  • Uncheck the box next to “Download updates automatically”

You can also go a step further and disable the scheduled update checks completely at the same option screen.

6) Disable Chrome and Firefox Automatic Updates

Chrome and Firefox release updates often and both apps will automatically download and update themselves in the background. While convenient on a regular internet connection, these can blow 20MB to 100MB of data easily, disable those automatic app updates for your web browser and you will certainly save some bandwidth.

7) Listen to Music from Local iTunes Library Rather than Pandora, Spotify, or Streaming Services

Avoid streaming music services while using Wi-Fi Hotspot and instead listen to your local iTunes music library. If you have a MacBook Air with limited disk space and don’t have much of a music library on there, just connect your iPhone to the Mac and play music from that through iTunes instead. Streaming audio is a bandwidth hog, avoid it as much as you can.

8 ) Watch Non-HD Video and Movies

HD video may look leaps and bounds better, but it consumes so much bandwidth that if you’re not careful you can blow through a monthly data plan after watching a single movie or two. Ideally you’ll avoid watching video on a hotspot connection entirely, but if you absolutely must watch something, go for the low-definition version and save hundreds of MB of data. You can usually change from HD to SD directly on a YouTube or Vimeo video page or embed, and you can choose to watch lower quality video through apps like iTunes too.

9) Hold Off on Downloads & Streaming

Downloading apps, files, or streaming anything uses tons of data, get in the habit of holding off on things that are not absolutely necessary. Have a new app you want to download? Wait until you’re on wi-fi. Want to watch a new episode of your favorite show from the ABC or PBS app? Wait until you’re on a less restricted wifi connection. Avoid downloading updates through the Mac App Store and Steam too.

10) Use a Data Compression and Monitoring App

Onavo is a data compression app that runs in the background on an iPhone, it is currently for AT&T iPhones only, but it claims it can double or triple the amount of data you can transfer through it’s effective compression. You will likely notice degraded image and audio quality while using the app, and currently no streaming VoIP or video services work, but if you don’t mind that it could help reduce data use. Onavo is free on the App Store for iPhone.

Reminder: Re-Enable Settings When Back on Normal Wi-Fi

When you return to a regular high network, remember to re-enable all the settings, syncing services, updates, and other features you disabled while on the road with Personal Hotspot, or else you may find your apps versions lagging behind and you could miss out on some essential security updates.

Bonus Tips:

Have any tips to reduce bandwidth? Let us know in the comments!


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Darren says:

    Shane – … Or just use Onavo. Free forever and works just the same lol

  2. Shane says:

    I use Charles Proxy to throttle my laptop connection. Charles Proxy is used primarily by web developers, and can be used to throttle your connection to simulate users connected over lower speed. It runs for about 30 minutes at a time without a license, so you can either restart it every 30 minutes or pay $50 for a license. Once you launch it, from the Proxy menu you can turn on OSX proxy and turn on Throttling. You can then set the throttling speed under throttling settings. There are a few things that bypass the proxy including flash and Skype, so you have to keep a bit of an eye on it, and some other tools mentioned here might help. But I do this to allow a decent connection to web traffic, without allowing some video like a G+ hangout to consume my full 4G bandwidth and suck all my data plan away.

  3. SC says:

    WP – change the password.

  4. WP says:

    How do I remove an unwanted connection from my hotspot when it is on? I am afraid that someone else has managed to connect to my hotspot.

  5. DB says:

    I wish someone would write a script that would turn all of these services off when connected to a hotspot (or any specified connection) and turn them back on when back on normal network.

  6. […] to use tons of bandwidth once you connect a computer to a smartphones internet connection, and thus you should learn some simple tips to reduce data usage any time a Mac or PC has been tethered to a smartphones cell […]

  7. […] in general if you’re on a slower internet connection, and if you’re concerned about conserving data because of 4G HotSpot tethering it may not be a good idea to enable this all the […]

  8. […] be used, and the other requires a jailbreak but no personal hotspot. We almost always recommend you conserve data usage when on Personal Hotspot, but if you’re in a pinch there you can use these tricks to skirt […]

  9. […] carriers charge extra for the service and it quickly eats into your standard data usage as well if you’re not careful.

  10. […] but if you have metered internet or are using Personal Hotspot you’ll probably want to save the bandwidth and stop those updates from downloading themselves in the […]

  11. […] version pushed to you automatically, but if you want to disable the sizable automatic updates to reduce Personal Hotspot data use or something similar you can do so with a defaults write […]

  12. Aditya says:

    As of 5.1, iOS has a separate “tethering data” statistic under Settings->General->Usage->Cellular Usage->Tethering Data

  13. sea says:

    Hi there – what a fabulous list – thankyou!
    I am not very technical, new to apple world of only 2 years since iphone, so I found your list very helpful.

    3 points from a beginner.
    sorry if they are obvious for advance users.
    1: recently:
    I created a new wireless (without internet connection), as I share the internet with household.

    This has helped me how often apps were connecting to internet and myself not realising it. Its amazing how often you use the internet without realising it.
    e.g. userguides, help pages

    This works as I do big data transfers from macbook to TimeCapsule, or TC to iphone. and that was messing up all the data stats and using the wireless network with internet bandwidth.

    I loaded LittleSnitch
    to learn when it fact my apps were connecting to internet
    as a baby technical person, I learnt, almost all apps try to connect to internet on open.

    What for… I have no idea….
    because as sstandard practice, I always have “check for updates manually”. so why they need a connection on open… i have no idea..

    next step:
    is to learn what all those connections are for, so I can disable the ones that are not required in LittleSnitch.

    Default the non-internet wireless network as the primary wireless network — so my iphone goes there versus sits on internet when at home.

    Monitoring Data Usage
    This is where I am stuck as I have not found ANY TOOL to differientiates between wireless networks. Surplus Meter is easiest tool in my view, but it also does not differentiate between wireless networks.

    what would be great is, if someway, I can get surplus meter to start working when I switch to wireless network = “name”.

    maybe someone knows how to do that.
    currently I just have to remember to start it or TURN IT OFF when i switch to filesharing wireless.

    what would also be great, is if Surplus Meter could show in top right hand corner, next to wifi symbol, of the mb used TODAY. that would be very helpful.

    I have no idea how to control what goes up in the top right hand corner (not sure what you call that part of the desktop)

    thanks again for your osx guide
    I have found it the best ever blog thing I receive each day via email. and I am so not technical.

    I love your sense of humour!

  14. Budges says:

    For moderate work I don’t have to change habits at all other than to account for slower speeds, though work doesn’t involve videos and heavy data streaming for me.

  15. Tim says:

    * Use a Flash Blocker

    * Use an Ad blocking plugin

    * Use an RSS Reader to view web favorite web content and avoid the unnecessary downloads of Javascripts, CSS, etc

    * Avoid bloated websites like NextWeb, Mashable, HuffingtonPost, etc, some of those are 2-4MB per PAGE load

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